In today‘s environment, medical science liaisons (MSLs) must call on digital solutions to make use of the right data and encourage the right conversations to take place.
In a market where information is continually increasing in complexity as well as volume, the role of the medical science liaison (MSL) in pharma companies has become pivotal. As the face of life sciences, MSLs must engage with the right experts in specific therapeutic areas and disseminate scientific information to HCPs who shape the treatment and outcomes for patients. Importantly, they also bring real-time insights back to their organization, deepen the knowledge of external stakeholders and customers, pre-empt knowledge gaps and further scientific discussion about the products and treatments.
With five times more clinical studies being registered today than just 10 years ago,1 identifying and finding the best way to engage with the right key opinion leaders (KOLs) is a significant challenge. To achieve high impact scientific engagement, an MSL needs three key business capabilities:
MSLs need to identify and connect with KOLs, as well as a wide variety of stakeholder groups, who have the relevant expertise and standing to command industry respect. However, this is a time-consuming task and not always straightforward, especially when dealing with a growing number of specialty medicines and niche areas of treatment.
Ideally, an MSL can turn to a variety of customer intelligence sources to get a real-time view of a KOL’s profile. They should note what articles the expert recently published, trials they have been involved with, and congresses in which they have participated. Quick access to other digital breadcrumbs, such as clinicaltrials.gov, LinkedIn, PubMed, and Twitter is valuable because it can paint a fuller picture of the expert.
Having instant access to this information doesn’t just allow an MSL to identify the right people, it also helps them to connect in a more meaningful way. For example, when MSLs can see a KOL’s published articles or their most recent tweets, they can reach out in a manner that is both personal and relevant to the individual. When in-person, face-to-face contact is restricted, and people are limited to digital channels, it is vital that these online interactions are engaging, relatable and personalized.
As one MSL recently put it: “When you're behind the screen, you need to make your engagements matter. We have all been working this way for months, and it's hard to stay focused after eight hours of back-to-back meetings. This forces you to make your content crisp, so it will keep the KOL's attention.”
With more digital interactions there are more opportunities to capture information that measures the impact of a product strategy. This is also helping MSLs see if they are driving awareness and converting healthcare professionals into advocates ahead of and following a launch.
Historically, this measurement process involved anonymized surveys. It could take six months before information was conveyed back to medical teams. But with the growth of engagement on digital platforms, there is now an opportunity to see impact instantly — and capture more meaningful data.
For example, an MSL can monitor who is talking about a specific drug and the sentiment behind any comments they make. They might also analyze how well a conference strategy performed compared to that of a competitor. This ability to measure scientific visibility, and ultimately launch success, will help MSLs demonstrate the value of their scientific exchanges.
This type of engagement data can also inform ongoing strategy. It offers another way for MSLs to be more targeted and personalized in their approach and helps medical teams learn and adapt.According to a member of the medical affairs team at a major pharmaceutical company, “It's one thing to capture the data, but to make strategic decisions we need that scientific and clinical context and an understanding of how we can use that information to improve and drive better engagements?”
The MSL role is not simply about relaying the latest information to target audiences. An MSL also needs to gather findings from the field that can help medical affairs teams adapt post-launch strategies, and ultimately improve patient care. Most of an awareness campaign takes place early in the launch cycle, as drugs are nearing approval. Hence the need to capture post-launch feedback from patients, via HCPs.
It’s incumbent on the MSL to gather and present real-world evidence from HCPs. This could reveal whether patients are experiencing side effects, or other notable findings, such as evidence that the medicine works better when taken with a glass of milk.
The voice of the patient is critical at this point and it’s essential that vital pieces of information are not overlooked. For instance, a recent project with a customer identified an emerging toxicity for a newly launched drug post launch. If they had not had a real-time, transparent feedback loop, it may have taken many months before that problem was uncovered.
When an MSL helps to process this type of information, it has a positive impact on patient experiences. By getting better at turning information and observation into actionable insights more generally, MSLs also become more effective across all aspects of their role.
In the increasingly digitized environment in which we now operate, the volume of online information can feel unwieldy and overwhelming for the pharma industry. Digital solutions for CRM and data management allows MSLs to embrace and make use of the data and encourage the right conversations to take place. This will prompt more meaningful scientific exchange around treatments. If MSLs can tap into the power of data readily available to them, they can improve results not only for their own organizations, but for the benefit of the healthcare community.
Andrew Merron is Global Head of Consulting at Veeva Link.
1. ClinicalTrials.Gov (2020). Trend, Charts, and Maps